By Margherita Dacquino
Geneva Peace Week 2021 has finally begun!
This year’s theme will be “From seeds to systems of peace: Weathering today’s challenges”; as always GPW organizing team has come up with a poetic and inspiring motto. Thanks to hybrid events, online workshops, podcasts, and videos, students will have the opportunity to learn, engage and share experiences of peace-building with practitioners and scholars from around the world.
While it feels awkward to talk about inequalities and global peace in the swanky auditorium of the Graduate Institute, among classy well-dressed people, this year’s Geneva Peace Week opening ceremony has given us some concrete food for thought.
Once the audience was seated, the ceremony began with a few instants of silence, while we all avidly stared at the two distinguished guests: Tatiana Valovaya (Director-General of the United Nations Office in Geneva) and Ignazio Cassis (Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs). We could only hear the clicking of the cameras and envy the photographers’ proximity to these illustrious personalities.
There is always some kind of aura emanating from such characters. In their presence I feel thrilled, inevitably anticipating great inspirational speeches, the ones so needed to believe in change.
Nonetheless, while being extremely absorbing, their speeches lacked frankness. They both praised International Geneva as well as the more than ever needed multilateral system. Ms. Valovaya mentioned the centrality of climate change, stating that the COP26 is our last chance to stop our “war on nature”. Mr. Cassis, on his side, acclaimed economic innovation and digitalisation as tools for diplomacy, while reminding their limits and the need for physical spaces where ecosystems of lasting peace can be built.
As a student, these talks left me a bit skeptical: they rarely mention power imbalances in multilateralism, the repercussions of economic innovation, and the inequality of access to digitalization. For instance, while we can hope that COP26 will bring about change, leaders of the G20 – the world’s biggest economies – have recently proved that greed prevails on solidarity, endorsing a 15 percent minimum rate on multinationals which Susana Ruiz Rodriguez (Oxfam International tax injustice lead) defined as a “mockery of fairness”; a deal between and for rich countries.
Once the distinguished guests left the room, the ceremony went on a different track. The following panel of discussants was introduced by a musical interlude. It was surprising to see Estelle Hughes (Founder of Africa Learning International) ask her audience to sing along. She ended by saying that we were an example of voices coming together to demand peace. Looking around the auditorium, I’m still wondering if we were the appropriate and legitimate voices to ask for peace. For whom were our voices speaking?
In the workshop “Drugs and (dis)order – how do we build peace in drug-affected borderlands?” I attended early in the morning, this question came up frequently: for whom are the solutions we come up with? During the opening ceremony, Marc Batac (Programmes Manager of the Initiatives for International Dialogue) has challenged the dominant understanding of security, questioning what is our definition of peace and of its threats. He reminded us that the seeds of peace we are looking for don’t have to be invented in some western Center for Peace and Diplomacy, since they already exist in other people’s indigenous knowledge. Yet, while geographically close, the access to and the advancement of this understanding of peace seems to be a distant and remote reality – one belonging to another planet.
Nevertheless, as the optimistic but realist Anne-Marie Buzatu, from ICT4Peace, reminds us, there is hope. Hope exists in the power that each of us has to make a difference. Hope endures in the occupation of institutional spaces by civil society, in the building of new spaces by marginalised peoples, in the naming of what humanity deserves from its leaders, in the challenging of economic and power elites, and in the fight for peace, justice, and equality. This message of hope was echoed by the other panelists, namely Lindsey Fielder Cook from the Quaker United Nations Office and Professor Oya Dursun-Özkanca at the Elizabethtown College in the US.
The ceremony ended with a Global Youth keynote that stresses the importance of the freedom of creativity to find peace within our ecosystems. This is what the world needs: creativity, the voices of marginalised people, and sincerity. Rebuilding trust between communities is thus fundamental if we want to change the world we live in.
Finally, as Thomas Guerber (Director DCAF) noted, the Geneva Peace Week is a platform where a thriving international community can gather to provide solutions that are not tinted with power politics, overcoming the paralysis induced by the complexity of global challenges.
Geneva Peace Week 2021 will be held between November 1st and 5th covering four thematic tracks: Creating a Climate for Collaboration, Moving beyond Securitization, Harnessing the Digital Sphere for Peace, and Confronting inequalities and advancing inclusion, peace, and SDG16. Find more information and registration links here.
Photo by Margherita Dacquino